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Liberal Democrats

The Government must catch up with cancer

The cancer crisis is a national crisis on the scale of COVID. It needs a response as ambitious and urgent.

By Tim Farron, Jan 08, 2021 10:01

Tim Farron speaks at Lib Dem conference.

In the early months of this pandemic, the Government’s messaging was clear. ‘Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.’ And so it is once again. Monday’s lockdown announcement, although belated, was absolutely right.

But why must we protect the NHS? So that it can continue to tackle COVID, but also, equally, so that the NHS can carry on its life-saving work in every other area.

We must protect the NHS to tackle COVID and help the NHS carry on its life-saving work in every other area

Cancer research UK report that we will see 35,000 excess cancer deaths because of the Coronavirus pandemic. For every 2 people who have so far lost their lives due to COVID, another will unnecessarily lose their battle with cancer.

Screenings and treatments are being cancelled, delayed and disrupted until it is too late. Usually, we see a 70:30 split between curative and palliative care. This year, it’s 50:50.

The answer is not to exhort our heroic frontline staff to work harder.

It is not to carry on doing what we have always done, just doing it a little better. This requires some new thinking.

As Chair of the Radiotherapy APPG, I met with Matt Hancock in October and asked him to back both Catch Up with Cancer’s 6-point plan to boost radiotherapy services and the APPG’s submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Radiotherapy is a clean form of cancer treatment.

It does not affect immunity or open up a patient to infection. It therefore holds huge potential to boost cancer treatment services to 120% of pre-Covid capacity, the levels required to clear the backlog within 2 years.

So, following the Spending Review on 25th November, there was a collective gasp of disbelief across the oncology and radiotherapy sector. It was baffling. There was no investment for, or no reference made to, COVID-safe radiotherapy treatment.

The Government must act urgently to catch up with cancer

Next week, I am meeting with the Under Secretary of State for Health, Jo Churchill, to remind her of the ever-increasing need for ring-fenced investment into radiotherapy services.

Thousands of people could have their lives lengthened, their lives saved, their families spared unspeakable grief, if the Government acts urgently to catch up with cancer.

But, most importantly, if you have even the slightest hint of a doubt that something might be wrong or unusual with any part of your body, the NHS is open to protect you.

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